Judges Cason, Cruse in heated campaign - Republic-Times | News

Judges Cason, Cruse in heated campaign

By on September 26, 2012 at 10:43 am

Laninya Cason

Zina Cruse

The battle for retiring 20th Judicial Circuit Judge Milton Wharton’s seat has turned ugly as the Nov. 6 election draws near.

The 20th Judicial Circuit includes Monroe, Perry, Randolph, St. Clair and Washington counties. Judge Wharton presided over the 2011 trial involving convicted triple-murderer Chris Coleman at the Monroe County Courthouse.

Republican 20th Circuit Associate Judge Laninya A. Cason — who switched parties in January upon the endorsement of fellow Associate Judge Zina Cruse by the St. Clair County Democrats over her — last week filed a Judicial Inquiry Board complaint against Cruse alleging unethical conduct.

The Cruse campaign issued a statement saying Cason’s complaint is without merit and should be dismissed.

In a 30-page fax sent to the Republic-Times office last week, the Cason campaign states in its filing to the judicial oversight panel that Judge Cruse is presiding over cases where her campaign manager, attorney Charles Courtney, is representing one of the parties.

Cason’s complaint hinges upon a 1996 Illinois Judicial Ethics Committee opinion that states a judge is disqualified from hearing any matters during the course of an election campaign in which one of the parties is represented by the judge’s campaign chairman, whether there is disclosure or not.

In some of the cases, Cason’s complaint alleges, Courtney “is opposing pro se litigants who may not even be able to understand the gravity of Judge Cruse’s behavior, which tremendously questions her impartiality.”

The complaint also alleges that a known contributor and member of Cruse’s campaign committee, attorney Rhonda Fiss, “has repeatedly been appearing in contested matters before Judge Cruse in this election campaign.”

While Cason’s camp admits this behavior is not unethical according to judicial code, it gives the appearance of impropriety.

“Judge Cruse should be censured and/or reprimanded for this repeated unethical conduct, which puts the judiciary in disrepute,” Cason’s filing states.

In response, the Cruse camp took issue with Cason’s allegations.

“All judges know the complaint process is confidential until there is a finding that the complaint has merit,” a campaign statement reads. “This is to help ensure the complaint process is not used for political purposes.”

The statement added that Cruse “has always maintained and exercised the highest degree of judicial ethics and integrity. The litigants who appear before her, whether represented by legal counsel or not, are advised of any facts which may give rise to even the appearance of impropriety.”

Cruse’s campaign also pointed out in the statement that Cason was not recommended by the Illinois State Bar Association, while Cruse was.

“What more can we expect to see from a seated judge who has received one of the worst judicial evaluations in the history of the state?” the Cruse campaign statement concluded.

Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.